Whether we are actively participating in it or merely watching from the sidelines, life does indeed march on. There were at least fifteen years that I felt like life was marching on without me, that I was missing everything, that others were having wonderful experiences and that I was excluded. I had thoughts that I was destined to misery because I didn’t deserve anything better, that somehow I just wasn’t worthy of the good stuff. It seemed like everyone else had happy relationships, good jobs, lots of friends, fun hobbies at which they excelled; you name it, they had it and I didn’t and that’s because they were better than me. I got what I got because I didn’t deserve the good stuff. That kind of a funk goes by a lot of names – depression, grief, and addiction, just to name a few – but I have come to think of it as the darkness before the light. That’s how it played out in my life.
A set of designer circumstances made just for me led me out of that period of my life. I encountered other people who helped me understand that I was battling a phenomenon based on selfishness and fear; I wanted things to be the way I wanted them, and I was unwilling to accept any other outcome. I didn’t know what would happen if things didn’t go my way, but I was convinced it wouldn’t be good. This kept me on a proverbial merry-go-round of self-pity, anger, and frustration for a very long time. I was so caught up in having things my way that I could not appreciate things as they actually were. Reality didn’t stand a chance with me; I was totally focused on how things “should” be. I missed a lot of opportunities wishing for things to be different, wanting circumstances to be as I envisioned them.
As it turns out, my mother was in a similar place for almost the exact same period. I didn’t realize the parallels in our situations until she recently found her way out of her own funk. I can’t help but wonder if our circumstances were related, and there is certainly some history that would indicate they were linked despite our relative estrangement during that time. For now I will live that question and not worry about the answer. What matters is that we both found our way out.
I now possess faith in a power that influences the circumstances around me. Without getting into it too deep, I think of it as a universal life force. For many, a belief in a well-defined Deity and the practice of a religion provides this same structure upon which I have come to rely. It’s all good; whatever gets you past thinking that you are the center of the universe is all that matters. Being plugged in, connected, a part of something bigger than myself was and is the key to leaving that funk behind. Awareness of others and their struggles is essential to me; I receive through giving. Believing I have a purpose and can contribute to the lives of others in a myriad of ways is what saved me from myself-destructive path. I now serve as a mentor to others, and the gratitude and humility that comes with that process is its own reward; indeed, it is the key to my continued happiness and peace.
I barely remember what it was like to pine after all the stuff that supposedly marks success in our modern world. The nice house, the fancy car, the private schools for the kids, the latest electronic gadgets, the wildest vacations to the most exotic places; this list could go on indefinitely. I had most of it at some point, and I was miserable. Insert your own desires into that list and then ask yourself these questions:
What if success is not really about any of that?
What if all your possessions fit into the back of a pick-up truck?
What if that fulfillment you are seeking doesn’t come when you get all the stuff and achieve all the goals?
What if all that really matters is this moment right now?
Who is with you right this moment and what are you doing? Pay attention to the moment at hand. Be with who you are with right now, not who you think you want to be with. What is happening around you at this moment? Maybe all the fulfillment and blessings you seek are right here, right now.
I have come to think of every moment as THE moment to which I should pay attention, and when it’s done, I should pay attention to the next one. Right now, I’m thinking about how satisfied I am with my life. I don’t have much of anything on that success list from above anymore, but I feel more successful than ever before. I feel valued, worthy, good enough, deserving of the peace and satisfaction I am experiencing in my life. Everything is just fine the way it is, despite it not being how I imagined.
I know how to listen to people and really hear them, and often how to respond in a helpful way. I know how to read and really comprehend, to learn. I know how to be productive at work and stay focused on the immediate tasks, not concerning myself with tomorrow’s tasks. My mother, who was waiting to die alone in her apartment for 15+ years, is now healthy and happy with new friends in a safe, cozy living environment. My daughter just moved 1,000 miles closer to me this month, so the odds of seeing her and my grandson more often are greatly increased. I love my job, even though the business I work for struggles and my pay is below average. I learned the basics of pottery making recently, something I’ve wanted to do for 7 years or so. My bills are paid. I have a cozy apartment, and two small dogs that I adore. I have a reliable automobile. I have a handful of friends and family with whom I have close relationships that I deeply value, and a variety of acquaintances with whom I have casual relationships for which I am grateful. I am rich in spirit. I am fulfilled. Reality does not suck. I have the good stuff.
Lest you think its all sunshine and sprinkles over here, I still have health issues and other unpleasantness to deal with – who doesn’t? That’s real living. A few months ago I got sick and had increasingly more severe abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea over the course of several weeks. I’ve had a CT Scan at the emergency room, though I have not had the opportunity to follow up with a GI doctor because my primary care doc thinks I just had a virus and won’t give me a referral. I am a disabled veteran and patient at the Veteran’s Administration and do not have private health insurance, so I had to take matters into my own hands and find solutions for myself that didn’t require a so-called professional.
So I don’t have a diagnosis, though I do know a few things that it isn’t. I have come to think of it as a sensitive gut. OK, let’s say wildly sensitive. When desperation led me to eliminating nearly everything from my diet and trying to find something, anything that I could eat without agony, my current journey began. I started introducing one new food item at a time (starting with potatoes), waiting a day for the outcome, and making a list of do’s and don’ts. I was off the sofa and back to work within a couple days of starting this minimalist approach. I am no longer able to eat dairy products, legumes, or grains of any kind. Most veggies are fine, though I have to be careful with raw greens and cruciferous veggies as they cause very painful ‘inflation’ if I eat more than a small amount at once. Packaged anything is probably not OK because dairy and wheat are used in most all packaged foods. To say that I am now a meat and potatoes girl isn’t really a stretch. Fruits, nuts, and most seafood seem to work for me also, though apples and shrimp have caused some mild problems recently. It’s sort of a Paleolithic diet, but not strictly that either. It’s whatever my gut says. That’s how I make my dietary decisions now.
Now when I say ‘unable to eat’ these things, I don’t mean like a classic allergy – swelling throat, rash, imminent death. I mean if I eat them, I will find myself writhing on the sofa in pain within 12-24 hours between my runs to the bathroom for, well, the runs. Is it life threatening? I guess not. But when you can’t leave the house because you can’t take the toilet with you, and you can’t stand up straight because of the pain, it’s pretty hard to live normally. The worst of it is the pain, which 800mgs of ibuprofen three times a day doesn’t even touch. The ER doctor offered me narcotics, but really? I need a solution, not a chemical Band Aid (which, I might add, has the unfortunate side effect of causing constipation. What was he thinking? But let’s not go there.)
As I write this now, I am experiencing some minor pain and wondering what I ate yesterday that might be the culprit. Such is my new life. For a foodie like me, this whole scenario is a nightmare that has me saying ‘What the Pho?’ I am now making food for others that I cannot eat; teaching people to cook things that I can no longer enjoy; and soon to be once again judging the culinary creations of others at a local cooking competition during which I may not be able to taste more than a small bite of each dish lest I suffer the consequences. I don’t know at this moment if this is my new ‘normal’, or if some looming gastrointestinal crisis will force me to go back to the doctor that thought I merely had ‘viral gastroenteritis’ three months ago and beg him to help me (when what I really want to do is tell him to go screw himself). The whole thing is a bit unnerving, to be honest. I mean, how does one go from eating anything without issue to looking at all food as a potential source of agony in just a few months? Can diet alone solve my problems, or is there something else going on that will eventually have to be identified and addressed?
I don’t have all the answers. For the moment, I have found some working solutions down the clean eating, Paleo, real food road. They may or may not turn out to be lasting. Whether you have GI issues like me or not, this flavorful spin on a Vietnamese classic that I like to call “Faux Pho” is a real-food flavorful dish with a variety of textures (by the way, Pho is pronounced ‘fuh’). It helps me not feel deprived as I think of the bread-and-cheese-laden diet of my past with fondness. Use any ground meat you like, but the organic grass-fed bison was really delish. That this dish happens to be gluten, grain, and dairy-free is just a bonus.
Until next time, keep it real, people.
Quick Faux Pho
For the Meatballs:
½ pound Ground Bison or Beef, preferably grass fed organic
2 teaspoons Grey Salt (minerals are good for you!)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked Black Pepper
1 clove Garlic, minced or pressed
1 teaspoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
3 cloves Garlic, minced or pressed (or a teaspoon of Garlic Powder)
½ teaspoon ground Ginger
½ teaspoon Ground Cardamom
Grey Salt & Pepper, to taste
2 cups Organic Beef Stock (preferably homemade)
Cellophane Noodles (Rice Vermicelli) , soaked in hot water per package directions then drained
¼ cup Fresh Scallions sliced fine
½ cup Mung Bean Sprouts
Assorted fresh veggies, julienned (bell peppers, hot peppers, greens, etc – whatever you have)
Mix the meatball ingredients all together in a small bowl and shape into meatballs, or cook crumbled like you would for sloppy joes – whichever you prefer (it’s hard to eat crumbled meat with chopsticks, I’m just sayin’). Preheat a deep skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook the meatballs or crumbled meat until cooked through.
Add the garlic, ginger, and cardamom and cook for a minute or two until the garlic is fragrant. Add the beef stock, stir well, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes to infuse flavor.
Place your prepared rice noodles in a bowl (or two bowls if you are sharing). Add the scallions, sprouts, and other veggies to the bowl. Pluck a few meatballs from the pan and add them to the bowl, then ladle in as much broth as you desire.
Using your weapon of choice (spoon or chopsticks), enjoy. I like to drink the remaining broth right from the bowl.
Phun Phactiod: Pho is usually enjoyed for breakfast in Vietnam!